Dividends elevating market

A record dividend season could be the force keeping domestic stocks buoyant in the face of offshore nervousness.

The exuberance may have dampened a little on Wall Street in the past fortnight but nothing seems to smother the bullish appetite for Australian equities.

Last night's rise on the New York Stock Exchange was its first after five straight sessions of losses that sapped 2.6% from the S&P500.

Australia, by contrast, has eased only marginally in the past week, sitting a fraction below five-year highs before this morning's start, after bucking the negative trend offshore several days running.

While September traditionally is a weak month for Wall Street, it is possible the dividend bonanza being showered on Australian investors right now is helping drive the ASX higher.

Research by Goldman Sachs estimates that in the past fortnight, Australian companies have delivered $8.7 billion in dividends to local shareholders. And with term deposit rates so low, many investors have opted to reinvest that cash back into the market (see Doug Turek's Beware of dividend fever).

A further $6.08 billion will find its way into shareholders' bank accounts next week with another $2.75 billion arriving in the week ending October 11.

That amounts to more than $17 billion being handed back to shareholders within a single month.

As term deposit rates have dropped, yield hungry investors have been chasing companies with decent payouts which, in turn, has prompted many corporates to increase payout ratios in order to attract demand for their stock.

Now, it appears, a virtuous circle has formed where the increased dividends are being diverted back into equities.

October traditionally is a tough month for the Australian market. Almost every major crash has occurred in that month while many years see significant corrections. With the dividend flow due to cease in a fortnight, and with further concerns about the US debt ceiling, many analysts fear a pullback in the middle of the month.

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